WASHINGTON -- ``Today the guns are silent. ... The entire world is quietly at peace.'' So said Douglas MacArthur in September 1945. Last week, seeing that quotation, now inscribed in stone at the new World War II Memorial in Washington, I was struck, touched, by its optimism.
And transience. The end of the war brought peace to Germany and Japan, which had been reduced to rubble. But that was the peace of the grave. There was no peace in Greece or China, where guerrilla war continued through the 1940s. There was tremendous civil unrest in France where communist parties came very close to winning power. And then, of course, the postcolonial aftermath: wars in India, Palestine, Indochina, Burma, and the list goes on.
A few days after my encounter with that MacArthur quotation, I read a brilliant and impassioned article by the eminent British military historian, John Keegan, skewering the commonplace and ahistorical idea -- claiming World War II as a model -- that wars end cleanly, neatly and completely. Keegan's article (London Daily Telegraph, June 1) detailed the bloody aftermath that continued for years after MacArthur's words on the battleship Missouri.
Keegan's larger point was contemporary, however. ``The British and American media retail with evident satisfaction every scrap of information'' -- bad war news, coalition soldiers' misconduct -- that ``undermines any expectation by readers and viewers of a successful outcome to the Iraqi involvement.'' The fact that transition from the coalition conquest of last April 9 to whatever new Iraq emerges will be difficult and bloody and contentious is the historical norm, argues Keegan, and yet it has been used by critics to discredit both the war and Bush and Blair for having undertaken it.
Keegan does not just know more history than all the sage Iraq critics combined. Within hours, his resistance to the Iraq panic sweeping Washington and London was looking prescient. The panic-mongers had been telling us that all was chaos, that the June 30 date for the handover of power to an interim Iraqi government was approaching with nothing but violence, bickering, and no one to hand the reins to.
As of this week, we have an interim Iraqi government, remarkably balanced in terms of ethnicity, region and tribe. Such encouraging developments, however, are apparently not to be permitted to puncture the current defeatism.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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